I am now back in the U.S., welcomed by friends, family, and jury duty, but my thoughts are still in Le Havre. This post will deal with the second body of work I created there and which I exhibited at the MuMA alongside my larger installation. This body of work, entitled Library: Le Havre, shows my experiments exploring connections between architecture and books.
The work was a natural extension of my general interest in architecture and my recent artist residency at the Center for Book Arts in New York. My thoughts were also directed by a serendipitous reading of “Notre Dame” by Victor Hugo when I first arrived in Le Havre.
The book, despite its reputation, really focuses on Hugo’s ideas about architecture and there are long, fascinating passages about architecture as a type of physical literature for each age, especially prior to the printing press. The press, he posits, killed architecture as a desirable vehicle for information. Architecture, although seemingly stable, is singular, site-based, and destructable and the information it embodies can be destroyed forever. Printed books, on the other hand, are multiple and allow for almost boundless dissemination, making the information they contain virtually indestructible. Naturally those of us over 30 recognize this experience of a radical global shift in information sharing with the development of the web. Hugo’s thoughts are touching reminders of the inevitability of these changes and the very human disorientation and frequent nostalgia that can result as these shifts occur. So my thoughts were with Hugo’s historic but very modern ideas of information and architecture as I played with my photographs of Le Havre.
One series consists of small pamphlets and booklets created from photographs of buildings in Le Havre. As they turn the pages, readers have an intimate and disorienting sense of moving around what are usually experienced as massive buildings.
Another series of cut and layered images of buildings set into plaster are inspired by the rubble of buildings destroyed in the 1944 bombing of the city and which is still visible in the weather-worn rocks on the beach of Le Havre. I was also interested in the layering of windows and walls that seems unique to this city. Tall windows dominate many of the downtown buildings and allow for glimpses into private spaces, interior walls, and more distant windows. These pieces collapse and freeze this space into plaster, creating contemporary relics of the city.
In another series I cast bound booklets in plaster. I left the booklets’ herringbone-stitch binding exposed as a reference to August Perret’s ideas of revealing the method of construction within his architecture (see an image of the timber impression left in concrete on Perret’s St. Joseph’s Church below). These pieces also touch upon the bombing of the city. As I thought about the bombing I also thought about what else was lost; specifically the personal libraries inside the buildings which, being paper, left no tangible trace.
I was very happy with all of the work I created in Le Havre but missed not having my work interact physically with the city. So on my last day in Le Havre I took one of the cast book pieces to give to the sea, which rolled it around like so much driftwood.
I came back at sunset and it was still there, already bitten a bit by the salt and sand.
I have more work from Le Havre that will keep me busy for a bit in Brooklyn, but for now I say au revoir and merci to this beautiful city and its wonderful people. It was a magical time!